Lessons Learned From the Death of My Beloved Son

This morning I walked downstairs and into our great room with a heart and body full of emotions.  My husband’s big comfy chair by the window was back in place after a few weeks of being upstairs in a bedroom.  We had become incapable of helping Rich navigate the stairs as he lost more use of his body so had moved first his bed, and then the hospice bed into that corner by the window.

We all lived an extremely intense few weeks and his stay here in our home was such a gift.  With the help of his wife and my husband, I was given the privilege of being with him in our home for the last six weeks of his life, and my sister came for the last week.   What would I ever have done with her too!  I was privileged, as well, to be able to do every single thing that a mother could do to save her son.

I have lived for many years wishing I could have a “do-over” raising my children.   I loved them but looking back, I didn’t know much of anything about love, about being fully aware and truly and consistently cherishing them while they were learning about life.   Fortunately I’ve been blessed with many years to cherish and love them and they clearly know how much they are loved and valued.

My daughter lived with me until she left home as an adult but when the boys were pre-teen, they went to live with their father and although only a few miles away, and back and forth between our homes, I often regretted my allowing them to leave.  I missed so much.  The little things and also some of their life-forming experiences.   I can remember at least once that each of them didn’t want to stay there after they had left and I could see in later years that it had impacted them heavily, the fact that I had allowed them to go – even though they wanted to be with their Dad.   At the time, he and I felt they should be allowed to decide where they wanted to live.   It had a heavy impact on all of us.

Many years ago, Rich and I talked it through and he said he had peace but that didn’t change the scars and fear of being alone and feeling abandoned that he lived with for the rest of his life.  Perhaps those issues had less power over him- I don’t know.  I have lived with a lot of guilt that I didn’t hold on to them tighter and refuse to let them leave.  Who knows what was the best for them.  I still don’t know.  I do know that over the years, I’ve been blessed with a very close and loving relationship with both of them.

I, along with my other son and my daughter, were with Rich in the hospital in the state where he lived when he was given the heart-wrenching diagnosis of glioblastoma multiformae Stage IV.  You can read his story here.   He and his wife had wanted to move back home – here in Washington State- for several years. Now was the time.  They packed what they could carry in their suitcases and 3 days later we were on the plane home for treatment at Oregon Health Sciences University and then to Compass Oncology.  Rich didn’t live long enough to get into treatment.  Maybe a blessing.   We were furiously fighting for his life but the tumor was on a mission of it’s own.  The tumor won.

He passed on Tuesday and this is Thursday.  I was in an abyss of grief and despair until last night.  I was adjusting to the change in my life – going from the intense life we had all been living for six weeks – every thought, prayer, breath, action included Rich and fighting for his life.  When he came home from the Hospital a week ago on Thursday for hospice care, I was challenged to change my focus – from fighting to accepting and simply making him comfortable.  That was a heartbreaking change in every aspect of my care for him.  It brought me once again to my knees emotionally and physically – in grief and prayer.

I’m so grateful that my sister and Rich’s wife were here to share my final experiences with my son. I couldn’t have done it without either of them.   My two remaining sisters are very close to him.  I know how I would feel if this were one of their children and I know how much they both love Rich and that they were experiencing very close to what I was experiencing during his final days.  There is huge comfort in shared experience.   Thank you!  I’m so grateful to you, Lynda, for being here.  I know Carlieta would have been here too if at all possible.

I had incredible joy and many “grateful” opportunities seeing my three children together during these weeks – nurturing, loving, caring for one another.   I know very well who they are but it touched me deeply to see them together.  Their living separately as young children had no impact at this point.  That was one of my concerns and pictures of a fractured family.  But this proved to be family at it’s finest.  I saw healing at a deep level for them and I know it was for me.  I am so blessed.

I have watched Rich go through many years of incredible pain, physically and emotionally.  My other son has navigated authentically and courageously through his life challenges and my daughter is a very courageous colon cancer survivor.  All three of my children are my great role models.  Their outlook on life, the way they navigate and function in life, their deep beliefs – somewhat differing but tolerant and strong, inspire me.  They are truly my greatest teachers, along with their children and grandchildren.  I’m so blessed and grateful to have these people in my life.

I’ve learned, on a whole new level, about courage, trust, faith, humor, diversity, loyalty, compassion and truth.

Last night and this morning, I have grief, of course, but that really comes in small waves.  I’ve been given the gift of peace and comfort.  I still don’t know what I believe or how this has come to me.  After the last few days when I’ve felt lost and searching, trying to live what I think is my belief, failing and faltering,  I’m given this incredible peace and feeling of being more deeply grateful than I can ever remember.  And yes even joy!

I still can’t say that I’m able to live my belief but I do know this for sure.  I’m writing it down to remind myself when I need to…we are nothing more than visitors on this earth.  We are gifts and lessons to others.  My children are first and foremost a soul that I’m privileged to know in a special way but they are not mine.  I cannot hold on to them – I simply get to touch them and love them.  And when it’s time for them to move on, I can do nothing but give the best send-off possible and be grateful that I was so privileged.

I’m doin the Grateful Dance.  I was entrusted with that great soul in my life for a little over 54 years.  How deeply blessed am I.

“On the Children” by Khalil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.



You Are Enough!

Dear Daughter…

I am so grateful for our relationship…our freedom to speak our truth to each other…the acceptance…the understanding and support.  Both ways.  I hope you feel my love as deeply as I feel yours.

I understand your pain.  Probably better to say that I know how I felt when I was in your circumstances.  I’ve been there.  Divorce is brutal.  And the things that lead to divorce are devastating.

I am so proud of you and how you’re handling and learning.  How you’re making a conscious decision to help your sons through this – and consistently following thru with that decision.

In spite of the pain, I can’t help but feel joy at your growth- and for the outcome of all of this – no matter what it is.   I have to say I’m pretty amazed when I see your resolve, your mission to go through this with unconditional love for your husband, even when he’s making some very painful choices for all of you.  I’ve watch how you process events, and consistently keep from “reacting”.  The time you take to get yourself back so that you can respond in a loving way.  That is strength! I’m learning from you.  And so are others.

Yesterday when we were talking on the phone and I heard you questioning your appearance, who you are, your worth…well, that’s what I want to put in writing and hopefully you’ll re-read it when you find yourself questioning.

This is my truth to you

  • You ARE enough.   There is absolutely nothing more that you need to be.
  • I’m glad you’re considered “very attractive” physically.   However, in the “looks” department, there is always someone more beautiful, cuter, whatever…it’s a futile exercise, this comparison thing.  And it’s truly “in the eye of the beholder” anyway.  EVERYONE has something beautiful about them if we look for it.  He has chosen a younger gal, someone you consider “really cute” and I understand how devastating that is.  It would be a blow to any wife’s self-esteem.   Finding our way thru midlife can be a precarious journey for some.  Please just remember not to measure your self-worth by his behavior.  He’s admittedly very depressed, feeling very low about himself and his decisions.   Say “Stop it!” to your thoughts when you have a moment of measuring your worth by his actions.  Concentrate on what you know about yourself.   Lean on the rest of us during those times.   We’ll remind you of your “greatness” when you temporarily forget.  That’s what family and friends are for.  You are surrounded by many of us who see you clearly.  And like what we see.  Screw him!  Woops!
  • You are intelligent, kind, funny and such fun to be with.  You have a wonderful positive energy that lights up any room that you enter!  Look at the friends that surround you, the kind of people and clients that you attract.  That is a direct reflection of who you are.  Your business success attests to your integrity, caring and expertise in your career.   Your relationships with your sons and the rest of your family says everything about you.
  • You’ve been a joyous little spirit since the day you were conceived – since you were a mere flutter in me belly!   You’ve always been curious and full of adventure.  Through all of this pain you’ve been open to learning and growth.   You’ll get your joy and thrill of adventure back.  It’s who you are so no one can take any of these things away from you.
  • Remember how God has opened paths and doors that gave you such definite direction during this most difficult period of your life.  Remember your real boulder.  And all of the other rocks that are there for you anytime you need them.  And how much they care.
  • You are important -in fact vital – to me – and the universe.
  • You will have joy again.  You have a wonderful happy life ahead of you – full of love.

I’m so very grateful for you! And I love you deeply,


My Daughter – My Friend

As an adult, my daughter is also one of my best friends.  And she’s an awesome friend – and daughter as well.   We have a rare relationship that I cherish.  She’s very bright, funny, deeply caring and sensitive, has an off-the-wall sense of humor that makes people want to be around her.  I want to be like that!  Where did she get it?

She’s very successful in her business, in fact #1 agent in her company for over 12 years of the 16 she’s been in business.  We enjoy each other and spend a lot of time together,  know each other very well –  we finish each others sentences.   We usually slide  from mother and daughter roles into dear friend roles and back again very easily.

This is a confusing moment and right now I’m not so sure.  She’s in a very fragile state going thru a painful divorce.  With that, she’s digging deeply within herself, working thru her pain and trying to understand her part in the breakup.  It’s a very painful process for her. Delving into her past has brought up childhood issues and of course I’m included in her evaluation of her past, I’m sure.  She talks about painful experiences with her Dad, but I feel she is careful to protect my feelings.  There are almost certainly some issues that we need to talk about when the time is right.  Maybe we’ll talk these thru as we encounter them in our daily lives.  I don’t know.   Mother-daughter, friends….forgiveness.  How will it play out.  Is there anything to play?

Over the years, I’ve been nothing short of shocked at how my chidren have perceived events that happened in our pasts.  We’ve all talked, cried, laughed, and eventually worked thru issues as they’ve arisen.   Forgiving – lots of practice here!  All three of my children are very caring and sensitive to others.  One of my sons is very quiet and keeps things within himself.  My other son and I talk with each other about anything and everything.  I feel confident that we’ve hashed out all of our differences and I feel certain that we’re in a very good place in our relationship.  With my “Mother” hat on, I feel very comfortable about my relationship with all three of my children….most of the time.

In my daughter’s new and very painful situation, I’m realizing she is sometimes pretty guarded.   She’s even more sensitive to others than I realized.  She tells me that she’s discovering she has a difficult time being vulnerable, a very difficult time.  I’ve know that in our relationship – I just didn’t have a name for it.   I’ve known, as well, that I have a very difficult time letting myself be vulnerable.  No wonder that she’s struggling with that.   Is this a human condition? Like Pema Chodron says (I’m quoting from memory?)….”out of a class of 600, 590 will be struggling with their self-value”.   Are these pretty universal issues?  No excuse….  just wondering.

The ripple effect is touching me.  I’m trying to see my part in teaching her to protect herself, that she can’t trust.  Herself? Me? Life?  Many times over the years I’ve tortured myself with my failures as a parent.  I was pretty clueless.  “Doing my best” just doesn’t cut it when it causes pain or fear in a child.   I want a “Do-Over” with what I know now – about myself and life!  I know better now, and I could do better!

I recognize that she emulates me in many ways.  I take that as a compliment.  But I also recognize, sense, that sometimes she grits her teeth and bears….and whatever I’m doing is such a part of who I am that I can’t identify what I’ve said or done.    And I start trying to analyze.   I’m sure I’ve also taught her what she doesn’t want to be – sometimes.   Yikes!

My Beloved Daughter is on a mission.  It’s a painful journey right now but she’s finding her way.   She’s a joyous person, loves adventure, fun, learning, doing.  She lives out loud.  She loves people.

I love that her first comment after an appointment with a client is, “Oh, I just love them!”  And she means it.

I’m so blessed to have her for my daughter – and my friend.

When I Know Better – I Do Better – My Maya Angelou Mantra

I feel that I hurt, turned off, scared, dumped (not about her)  on my daughter yesterday and she’s either hurt or very turned off.    It wasn’t anything devastating, in fact it was expressing myself about my own issues.   But she was trying to help and couldn’t and I have no idea about how she actually took it.   I wish I had taken a deep breath and made sure I knew how she took it.   I have a feeling she somehow ended up feeling guilty about “something”.  If I could have a “do over”, I’d have left her after making it clear to her that she had nothing to do with my pain – I think she knows – but I’d feel better had I made that clear.  That I didn’t expect her to “fix it”.   I feel I left her in my emotional turmoil.  She’s in a pretty painful place right now, going througha divorce, and I imagine our experience yesterday left her with some feelings of her own to deal with.

I  later texted her – her preferred communication – apologizing for expressing my anger and sadness in a way that I didn’t like.  She hasn’t responded.

She’s been in a very fragile state for the last couple of years and I’ve tried to be there for her.   I’m already pretty worn out trying to deal with some of my own presently heavy issues that she is not a part of – and still be there for her.  I realized recently that I’m feeling a little sad that she doesn’t realize – or at least express – any acknowledgement of what I’ve helped her with during her divorce.   It’s clear she’s had a lot of comfort from our talks and being together, a few “A Ha” moments.  She invariably attributes these to others.  She openly and often expresses gratitude for others who are there for her – and I’m so glad they are.  Deeply grateful for the love surrounding her.  She invariably attributes one of “our A Ha moments” to someone else when she’s recounting to me.

Is it my Ego?  Wanting to feel appreciated some times?  Acknowledged?  Does it really matter who helps her as long as she grows and finds her way?  My egoless self would certainly say that and most of the time I do.  While writing this I just realized – I want to know that she feels like my cherished daughter – a special, not to be duplicated relationship, not me as merely a friend.

We’re extremely close but rarely physically affectionate.  We’re more best friends than Mother-Daughter.  I know that’s appropriate for where we are now but I think I was not a “Mommy” – a consistent safe place – when she was growing up.   I still yearn for that feeling between us, even more as I get further away from the time when it was appropriate.   It’s loudly missing – and has always been missing.  She wasn’t a cuddler, but neither was I.   I missed that as a child and I wasn’t even aware of it.  I certainly would never have given it to my kids.  I was pretty emotionally detached in most ways in the past – from everyone – so that I’m so glad that we’ve been able to sustain the closeness that we have and see it grow as adults.  I guess it’s an intense mother-daughter closeness expressed in the best way that we both know how and are comfortable with.

The first time I can remember “feeling” a hug was when my daughter was about five years old.  My sister and brother-in-law were visiting us from out of town and just leaving our home.  We were in the driveway and my sister hugged me – which she did a lot.  All of a sudden I realized that I was being hugged and especially realized that I wasn’t hugging back.  I did it awkwardly.  It was an emotional milestone in my life that I’ll never forget.  That feeling.   I had always just stood motionless when anyone hugged me.  I got plenty of hugs – from my husband, family, kids – but never felt it until then.  That was the beginning of learning to relish hugs.  My children were about 5, 10 and 13.  I weep for the disconnection I taught them.   I wonder what pain and difficulty attaching they have experienced all of these years.   I’ve watched them as adults and they’re all very physically and emotionally affectionate and connected with their families but that missing part of their childhood  has to have affected them in some pretty deep ways?  Maybe they learned what they don’t want to be?  I’ll start a conversation with them at an appropriate time and hope for healing where needed.  I know from experience that it’s never to late.

Thanks Maya Angelou – once again I say to myself… “When I know better I do better”.  That helps.  And now I hug my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren every chance I get.  And really feel it.

And I’m grateful.